I dropped out of Tufts, I dropped out of the University of Chicago and I wasn’t even that good at high school. I didn’t have a good time.  I didn’t learn that much.  But I think it has a lot to do with your personality as well as the area of your interests. 

My sister, who was brought up in a very similar kind of environment, she got straight A’s, two PhD’s, Magna cum laude, Harvard and Stanford and she did fine and learned a lot through the formal higher education system.  I had a more difficult time. 

My sister was able to look forward 25 years in the future and say, "I want to be this when I grow up, and in order to do that I have to do this."  I didn’t have that.  I didn’t have the patience and I was much more interested in trying to learn things that I could use right away.  My sister calls this interest-driven learning.  And so I didn’t do things that I wasn’t interested in.  

I was interested in computers and computer networks.  And it turns out that, in the ‘80’s, when I was working on this, there really wasn’t that much knowledge about that.  So you could kind of learn it on your own.  And in fact, the school, the way that they taught in school, at least to me, it was much more instruction based rather than construction based and I learned a lot more by building things than I did by learning things through lecture. 

So I think it really depends on the field that you’re in and it depends on the style of learning.  Now, I would argue that probably there are more people like me who learn through interest-driven learning or through building things than young people who can kind of plan their future and execute against it.  And there are probably people somewhere in between.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock 

[00:28:12.01] But you know, my goal really was the Media Lab and other places that I work with is to try to create a balanced system where, you know, different types of people with different ways of learning are all able to engage in learning and also collaborate with each other.